Asian Giant Tortoises Released back into the Wild

Asian Giant Tortoises Released back into the Wild

Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), Bangladesh Forest Department (BFD), and Creative Conservation Alliance (CCA) have recently released ten captive-bred Asian Giant Tortoises (Manouria emys phayrei) to the Chattogram Hill Tracts of Southeast Bangladesh – the first ever rewilding of this critically endangered species in the area.

“This release epitomizes why we created the Turtle Conservation Centre and why we work diligently to create meaningful and lasting relationships with indigenous communities of the Chattogram Hill Tracts,” said Shahriar ‘Caesar’ Rahman of Creative Conservation Alliance and Turtle Survival Alliance. “It exemplifies the value of public-private collaborations and illustrates the use of conservation breeding as a tool to restore populations of native animals in the wild.”

Ten juvenile Asian Giant Tortoises were released into a 200-hectare community-managed forest located in the Matamuhuri Reserve Forest, Bandarban Hill District. The tortoises hatched in 2019 at the BFD/TSA/CCA’s Tortoise Conservation Centre in Bhawal National Park and are offspring of parents seized from or surrendered by individuals who poached them from the wild for food.

Ten juvenile, captive-bred Asian Giant Tortoises are affixed with radio transmitters at the Bangladesh Forest Department/ Turtle Survival Alliance / Creative Conservation Alliance’s Turtle Conservation Center in Bhawal National Park prior to their release. Photo: Kowshikur Rahman/CCA

Ten juvenile, captive-bred Asian Giant Tortoises are affixed with radio transmitters at the Bangladesh Forest Department/ Turtle Survival Alliance / Creative Conservation Alliance’s Turtle Conservation Center in Bhawal National Park prior to their release. Photo: Kowshikur Rahman/CCA

“This is a really BIG first step toward realizing TSA’s goal of returning Asian Giant Tortoises to the landscape” said Rick Hudson, President of Turtle Survival Alliance. “With conservation breeding programs in India, Myanmar and Bangladesh, this effort is the embodiment of TSA’s strategy of building assurance colonies from doomed animals seized from the wildlife trade with the goal of restoring wild populations.”

To ensure the protection of these tortoises and its habitat, a Village Conservation Committee (VCC) was formed in the village. This five-member committee, under the supervision of the village chief, will act as the local governance system to protect the tortoises and their habitat in select demarcated areas.

Post-release animal movement and survival monitoring will be performed by reformed hunters trained as parabiologists (field technicians) from local communities of Matamuhuri Reserve Forest and under the supervision of Shahriar Rahman (CCA/TSA). Each tortoise is fitted with a transmitter and will be monitored by the parabiologists using radio telemetry equipment. Data from this effort will guide conservation and repatriation measures for future rewilding efforts and will help validate the efficacy of conservation breeding and release as a tool in restoring populations of native turtles and tortoises.

The village Chief of the recipient community releases the first-ever rewilded Asian Giant Tortoise in Bangladesh. Photo: Kowshikur Rahman/CCA

The Asian Giant Tortoise is the largest tortoise in Asia, growing up to 61 cm (24 in) in shell length and weighing up to 35 kg (77 lbs.). It is thought be one of the oldest tortoise lineages in the world. Native to tropical and subtropical hill forests of Bangladesh, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore (extirpated) and Thailand, the Asian Giant Tortoise is considered Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Subsistence and commercial hunting and destruction of primary forest habitat are its principal conservation threats. The tortoise plays an important role in maintaining ecosystem health through seed dispersal. In Bangladesh, the Asian Giant Tortoise was once found throughout the Chattogram Hill Tracts but has disappeared from most parts of its native range. Today, they are considered functionally extinct in the Chattogram Hill Tracts.

In 2017, the Turtle Conservation Centre (TCC) was established in Bhawal National Park, Gazipur District, as a collaborative breeding facility of the Bangladesh Forest Department, Creative Conservation Alliance, and Turtle Survival Alliance. The TCC was established to increase numbers of threatened native tortoises and turtles through captive breeding, with a goal of reintroducing them to the wild. Ten adult Asian Giant Tortoises were rescued from slaughter and transferred to the Centre in 2017. In 2019, 46 tortoise offspring were produced in captivity for the first time in Bangladesh. The TCC is the only facility in Bangladesh dedicated to the conservation breeding of tortoises at risk of extinction.

The Asian Giant Tortoise conservation breeding program at the TCC is part of a larger tri-national strategy by TSA and our partners to restore wild populations of the species in Bangladesh, India, and Myanmar. Over the years, all three country programs figured out the nuances of breeding this species in captivity, but Bangladesh is the first to reintroduce tortoises to the wild.


The release of the ten captive-bred Asian Giant Tortoises was a historic moment for the Chattogram Hill Tracts, the recipient community, the collaborative conservation organizations, and Bangladesh. Photo: Kowshikur Rahman/CCA

Read more about the excellent work that Turtle Survival Alliance do here: https://turtlesurvival.org/

Exotics Keeper Magazine recently interviewed Rick Hudson, President of the organisation on the plight of the Radiated tortoise. This feature can be found in our November Issue: Shop – Exotics Keeper Magazine

Asian Giant Tortoises Released back into the Wild

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